Seventy years ago today, on 6th August 1945 at 8:15am JST, the US bomber Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. Three days later, another bomber from the same squadron, Bockscar, dropped “Fat Man” on Nagasaki.
The Japanese government were struggling to surrender and end the war: the US government wanted to try out the effect of their two kinds of nuclear weapons on two cities that had not yet been firebombed. After the two nuclear weapons had been dropped, negotiations could be allowed to begin: Japan’s surrender was announced on 15th August.
By 15th August, the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had already killed between 84,000 and 123,000 civilians: by the time Japan formally surrendered to the Allied forces on 2nd September, over 246,000 civilians had been killed by the US bombing on those two cities.
- During the Blitz, which lasted from 25th August 1940 to 16th May 1941, German bombers attacking London, Coventry, Birmingham, Southampton, Bristol, Plymouth and Liverpool, killed 43,000 civilians.
- Between 13th and 15th February 1945, the RAF firebombing attack on Dresden killed about 25,000 civilians.
- In the nine years of US/Vietnam War, 1965 to 1974, US military killed in action/non-combat deaths totalled 58,307.
No other country has ever used a nuclear weapon in war.
My father was 18 when the first nuclear weapons detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki: he was already a pacifist, but he was to campaign against nuclear weapons for the rest of his life. He died in February this year. I went to the annual vigil to remember Hiroshima today: standing on the Mound, sandwiched between an ice-cream van and the Royal Scottish Academy, listening to peace activists old and new.
If the nuclear bomb used on Hiroshima were exploded over Edinburgh, the fireball, radiation, and air blast would kill nearly everyone from the Scottish Parliament to Haymarket, from the Meadows to Inverleith. Half of them would die on the first day. Others shielded from the fire and the air-blast but not the radiation, might take weeks to perish.
The UK has about 225 nuclear weapons, a similar number to China and France: Israel, India, and Pakistan each have about a hundred nuclear weapons: Russia has over 1500 deployed and several thousand non-deployed or waiting to be dismantled: the US has 1,597 deployed and about 4800 in total.
A majority of people in the UK seem to feel that “having nuclear weapons makes the world more dangerous, not less, because we encourage other countries to get them by having them ourselves”.
Renewing Trident – keeping the UK in the nuclear club – is a given for the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat parties: part of Jeremy Corbyn’s unelectability is said to be his policy that the UK shouldn’t spend twenty-three billion pounds on Trident (plus the ongoing maintenance costs for the forty-year lifespan, which brings the price of Trident well into the hundred billion): that money should be invested in “growth and innovation for the British economy”.
Nuclear disarmament is routinely presented by the media as being soft on defense: but nuclear weapons only make a country “safe” if they have a justified fear that the US will invade them for the oil. I think the worst Scotland has to fear on that account is Donald Trump.
In deathly seriousness, using nuclear weapons for “defence” is like swinging a bottle of petrol round your head in a burning building: it will certainly keep people away from you, but mostly because they don’t want to die, too.
There is an exhibition of photographs and artwork by survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the Leith Community Centre from 9:30-9:30 every day til 20th August 2015. Organised by the Trident Ploughshares and the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre.